Renowned singer and composer Nikos Kouroupakis lives and breathes music. With music and poetry having a prevalence in his family for generations, it seems to course through his veins. Working in the construction industry by day, he devotes himself to writing, composing, rehearsing, recording and performing at night.
Everyone has their path and the way they understand life. I understand life through music
With a rich voice that can trigger both nostalgia and joy, and lyrics that reach into the depths of the soul, Nikos is modest about his tremendous success, having collaborated with the biggest names in Greek music, including Giorgos Dalaras, Mikis Theodorakis, Glykeria, and Haris Alexiou.
He released his debut album Ax Ellada Mou in 1994, with critically acclaimed success across two continents. From that point he moved to Greece with his family and worked with the best Greece had to offer, resulting in three platinum albums and incredible collaborations.
Nikos spent five years touring with Mikis Theodorakis and Orchestra, performing all around the world from Peking, to Argentina, to Australia.
Together with Erofili and Dimitri Ifantis he formed the band Trifono in 2002. Rearranging old songs into new, and fusing different styles in their performances they mesmerised audiences with their intoxicating harmonies.
GCT recently had a chat to Nikos about his journey with music, his heritage, accomplishments, and what is currently in the works.
Where were you born and where do you live now?
I was born in Athens, Anthoupoli. My father is from Ierapetra, Crete and my mother from Vroutsi, Amorgos. My family immigrated to the United States in 1974. I had the privilege to grow up in a very passionate Hellenic American community in Hicksville Long Island. The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, under the care of Fr. George Stavropoulos, was my lifeline to holding on to my Hellenic culture and heritage.
Traditional Greek music and song throughout my college years were always part of me. I loved to sing and write music. I wanted to record music and immerse myself in Greek literature and poetry.
I returned to Greece in 1995 with my beautiful wife Evangelia, and together we lived a musical journey with unforgettable moments of creativity. Three platinum albums later, along with incredible collaborations, we returned to New York with our 2 sons.
Tell us about your journey with music. Did you know at a young age that you had talent? How did your musical aspirations come to life?
I was always captivated by the effect on people when melodies and words come together. So much that I had the need to play with them and create with them.
My father’s side of the family played all kinds of instruments, and my mother’s side wrote poems. I have always felt that my role in music will never be specific, but I knew that my path will only be through “artful” music and poetry.
I love to arrange music and crave getting lost in its moments of birth. Creating something out of nothing.
I cherish our great Greek composers and poets. They are examples of the highest level of expression. Expression in timeless melodies that are married to words that truly have a reason to be told to all. I am proud that I’m part of this realm.
Tell us about Trifono?
Trifono was a wonderful collaboration with Erofili and Dimitri Ifantis that lasted around eight years. We recorded three albums of which one reached gold and another double platinum. We represented a proper three-part harmony machine. We did it all. Rearranging old songs into new and fusing different styles into concept performances. It was a lot of fun along with a lot of hard work. Our
most loved song was “Να μ’αγαπας,” with music by Carlos Libedinski and lyrics by Lina Nikolakopoulou
You have collaborated with many big names such as Dalaras, Alexiou, Mikis Theodorakis. Who else would you love to collaborate with?
I would love to do a concept album with Stamatis Kraounaki and Lina Nikolakopoulou. I believe the magic and creativity between these two beloved creators is unmatched. I would consider this a signature collaboration.
What have been some of your biggest career highlights?
I would most certainly start with the concert in the Forbidden City, Beijing China with Mikis Theodorakis and Orchestra. Also, I will never forget my collaborations in concert tours and recordings with Haris Alexiou, Lina Nikolakopoulou, Stamatis Kraounakis, Alkisti Protopsalti, Notis Mavroudis, Dimitris Mitropanos , Pandelis Thalasinos, Glykeria , Dimitra Galani, Eleni Tsaligopoulou and can’t forget George Dalaras. He was my first professional collaboration.
Along with these artists I have travelled all over the world and have recorded many beloved and timeless songs.
Tell us about some of the songs you have composed? Does composing come easily to you?
Composing has been a big part of my interest in music. I would say writing a melody was my initial need. Then came singing a song. I have written songs for children’s books, music for children’s theatre, music for songs I sang and was privileged to have other artists sing. It is truly a wonderful feeling having music in your heart. I feel very fortunate to be able to sing the melody that just came to my mind. Creating something out of nothing, trying to go deeper, trying to block out all the noise, and then picking up and separating whatever could be considered valuable. Everyone has their path and the way they understand life. I understand life through music.
What are your favourite pieces to perform and why?
I love to mix it up. Traditional songs fused with contemporary … as long as it has passion and one needs to break down to sing, they become my favourite .. Γυάλινος Κόσμος, Kaldaras, Papagianopoulou, a ζεϊμπέκικο, has been a favourite of mine do to, they are such truthful lyrics … “θεός αν είναι ” Bregovich , Nikolakopoulou, has also mesmerized me because of its power and sensitivity.
I live for epic rhythms and powerful melodies and then at the same time I could break into 1000 pieces and want to sing an improvisation ( αμανέ ) leading into a melancholy song that dates back 150 years.
The Hellenic / Byzantine culture has given birth to endless melodic paths for the soul.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have started working on two projects that have totally challenged me creatively. I am trying to break out of the standard concert setup and venture into areas that are out of my comfort zone. It is exciting to be a bit nervous.
How did your upbringing influence the work you do?
My Hellenic upbringing had a deep impact on how I saw my surroundings and myself. The strength of my culture was constantly giving to me. I loved our passion and our free spirit. Tradition and our religion provided examples to live by. It kept our family strong, supportive and loving. I wanted somehow to immerse myself in this culture. Balkan, Middle East and Mediterranean melodies felt closer to me than any other styles. Greek literature and philosophy expressed through song felt right at home.
So I did just that. I moved to Greece and collaborated with the best. The journey continues in the USA now. The bridge to Greece is stronger than ever. I’m looking forward to writing, recording, performing and learning more, about myself and music.
What inspires you?
Love, kindness, passion, generosity, courage and creativity are what I look for in my environment. I truly believe these characteristics are at the root of a good life and are constantly present in nature. They exist also in our human core. I try to be a good observer. I am convinced that a person that observes with an open mind can find endless inspiration.
What is one piece of ancestral knowledge or advice you remember to this day?
Something I try to live by was told to me by my κουμπάρο, Greg Birbil. He always says,
“Take what you do very seriously and not so much yourself.”
Another one of my favourites is “You can find the worst and the best in the same person. We should always try to bring out the best in others.”
*Here is Nikos new song for the new year and an exclusive to GCT, it’s a collaboration on a new CD that was just released →